Yesterday I posted "Hated by Literature," an essay about books that make me uncomfortable but that, for whatever reason, I continue to reread. Although I did eventually manage to find a journal that was willing to take the piece, it was a difficult essay to publish--by far the most difficult of all the chapters in the manuscript I'm calling The Vagabond's Bookshelf. While a number of journal editors probably just didn't like my writing style, I suspect a certain contingent was uncomfortable with the white-girl-versus-Malcolm X premise . . . and, interestingly, that contingent included white women who are vocal activists for women's equality in publishing.
When one takes a political stance, it becomes dangerous to admit ambiguity. This is understandable, I suppose, in the context of a rally or a campaign, but it is death to art. Writers know this truth--including these women editors, who are well educated, sophisticated citizens of literature--yet the ambiguities inherent within ourselves and our histories continue to confound and threaten all of us. Is it right, is it risky, for a white woman editor to publish a white woman's old-fashioned and semi-long-winded contemplation, one that, in some ways, takes Malcolm X's hallowed name in vain; one that, in some ways, reinforces both the humiliations and the humilities of male-female relations? The piece is both non-cutting-edge in style (to employ a cliche I particularly dislike) and radical-reactionary in morals. It has no safe readership.
I am writing this small epilogue not because I am angry at these editors, not because I think my essay is groundbreaking, not because I think it's wrong to take strong political stands against racism, sexism, classism, and other cruelties. All I am saying is that sometimes we forget that there is more than one way to be brave. As a friend of mine--a musician, a working man, a Republican voter--said to me the other day, in the gentlest, kindest, humblest voice imaginable, "I guess it all depends on where we stand on this earth, doesn't it?"